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Why is This Food Different from Other Foods?
Kashrus/Passover and Modern Food Processing

by Arlene Mathes-Scharf
M.S. Food Science, MIT
©copyright 1992- 2023 Kashrut.com

Passover is the time of year when kosher consumers are most careful about what they eat, due to the strict prohibitions against eating chometz. This is based on the biblical injunction against eating or possessing leavened bread during Passover. (Exodus XII 18-20)

Ensuring that food is kosher for Passover is even more difficult than during the rest of the year because many of the ingredients that are routinely used and are produced under kosher supervision are not kosher for Passover. Nothing can be used containing the following foods which are considered chometz: barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt except for matzoh and matzoh meal products which are flour and water mixed together and baked in less than eighteen minutes under rabbinic supervision. Many routinely used ingredients such as malt which is made from barley which is are chometz ingredients. Unintended contamination is also common. "Gluten-free grains, seeds, pulses, beans and legumes can share many steps of the supply chain with GCGs (Gluten Containing Grains), including being grown in the same fields, harvested with the same equipment, transported on the same vehicles, stored in the same facilities and processed in the same mills." www.foodmanufacturing.com. (An interesting article about grain contamination is The Use of Visual Examination for Determining the Presence of Gluten-Containing Grains in Gluten Free Oats and Other Grains, Seeds, Beans, Pulses, and Legumes.)

In addition most American Jews are Ashkenazim (of Eastern or Western European descent) and do not use kitniot: legumes (such as soy, peanuts, and peas), corn, rice and mustard flour. These are the basis of many functional food ingredients (list at www.kashrut.com/Passover/kitniot_list). Most Israeli Jews are Sephardim; so many products produced in Israel for Passover contain kitniot and are therefore not kosher for Passover for Ashkenazim. Some of the problematic ingredients include lecithin, corn syrup, cornstarch, rice, peanuts, mustard, soybean and canola oil. The major American kosher agencies including the OU, Star-K, and the OK are now certifying products containing kitniot for Passover. These products say that they contain kitniot and are usable for people who eat kitniot. More and more of products containing kitniot are being sold in the Passover section of American supermarkets. Some examples follow:

Marshmallows are a product which has had Pasover and kashrus problems in the past. The main ingredient of marshmallows is gelatin. In previous years, most of the Passover marshmallows on the market is made from beef hides from non-kosher slaughtered animals. This is a controversial ingredient that the major Orthodox Certifying agencies in the United States do not accept as kosher. This year the marshmallows that I saw at the market are certified by the OU or other reputable agencies made from fish gelatin or kosher certified beef hides.

On Passover, even the type of oil used becomes important, since the standard corn, canola and soybean oils cannot be used. Cottonseed oil, grapeseed,olive oil, walnut oil and safflower oil, become the oils of choice for Passover. Special runs for  products need to be made for Passover using these oils. Products, such as canned tuna which contain vegetable oil and hydrolyzed vegetable protein need to be supervised as to the source, since soybeans are commonly used.

Manufacturers are not required to list processing aids on the label. Processing aids are added during the manufacturing of a product, such as the oils for greasing pans in a bakery. These ingredients are not considered to be part of the final product and so are not required to be listed on the label but may still be present. Enzymes may be used in the production of the product or an ingredient that may have a chometz or kitniot origin.

In addition other foods should not come into contact with any chometz or they become unusable for Passover. An example of a product which could have this problem is frozen vegetables made on a production line previously used for pasta.

There are many innocuous appearing products which need kashrus certification during the year and particularly on Passover. Some of these products are sodas (flavored carbonated beverages), dried fruits, raisins and candies.

Kosher for Passover sodas must contain kosher for Passover ingredients. Sodas sold for everyday use contain a number of ingredients which are not kosher for Passover. Corn syrup is the everyday sweetener of choice, since it is cheaper for the manufacturer than cane sugar. Passover formulations must contain cane sugar. Sodas contain flavorings and colorings that may contain grain based alcohol which is not kosher for Passover. Everyday sodas also need kosher certification for everyday use since a number of innocuous sounding ingredients may be non-kosher. For example colorings and flavorings could be of animal, insect or grape origins especially in "all natural" products. Natural flavorings include civet (from cat), musk (from ox), castoreum (from beaver), ambergris (from whales) and grapes. (Kashrus Magazine, April, 1987, p. 60) Oils are used in some sodas and these need certification.
A list of Acceptable sodas during the year (not for Passover)  can be found on www.kashrut.com/consumer/soda.

Dried fruits and raisins need to have kosher certification year-round and special certification on Passover. Producers put oils or waxes on the raisins to prevent clumping. Glycerol is also added to raisins to keep them moist, these need to have proper kosher for Passover certification. Because of this use of oil or other processing agents, raisins and dried fruit need to have kosher certification even for year-around use even when labeled "all natural". Dried fruit and raisins may also be dried in ovens used for processing chometz. Dates may be coated with gluten-free oats to provent clumping.

Non-Passover products on store Passover shelves is a common problem. This problem is often due to mistakes by the retailer or wholesaler. Passover and non-Passove products may have the same UPC code, so it is hard to know which product is in a case without looking closely at it, and distributors often just stock shelves by UPC code. Other unintentional reasons for misplaced products include: the wrong product was delivered, the label of the product is the some except for the "P", or the retailer sees Hebrew on the label and assumes the product must be for Passover.

Modern technology also helps in the preparation of a kosher Passover. The Internet enables information about products, alerts and procedures to be available worldwide in a timely manner. Kashrut.com at http://www.kashrut.com/Passover gathers the information in one place from Kosher certifying agencies from around the world and updates this information as necessary.

Keeping kosher for Passover requires vigilance and education on the part of the consumer, with the reward of a chag kasher vi sameach ( a kosher and happy holiday). 

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Arlene J. Mathes-Scharf  
Food Scientist - Kosher Food Specialist
Scharf Associates
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